Yoga, in the Yoga Sutras of the ancient sage Patanzali, is defined as “The cessation of the modifications of the mind”.
Patanjali defines the route to this achievement as consisting of eight limbs. Ashtanga is the Sanskrit word for eight limbed. Hatha Yoga consists of the first four limbs, namely :
Ahimsa (non-violence):To refrain from causing pain to any living being including oneself.
Satya (truthfulness): To develop honesty and to avoid deceiving others and oneself.
Asteya (Non-Stealing): To avoid any misappropriation of material or non material things, such as accepting praise or accusations that one does not deserve.
Brachmacharia (continence): To conserve and redirect the sexual energy, above all, as an attitude of purity of thought, speech and deed.
Aparigraha (non hoarding): To prevent the accumulation of unenecessary posessions. The purpose is not to become free from posessions themselves but from the attachment to them so that one will remain unaffected by gain and loss.
Saucha (purity): Cleanliness of the body and purity of the mind. External cleanliness on a gross level includes daily bathing, clean clothes, living in a clean house, while on a subtle level is purity of actions and selfless service.
Santosha (contentment): The feeling of contentment is not a passive state of mind, but a quality that needs to be cultivated with effort to free the mind from the effects of pain and pleasure.
Tapas (austerity): “Tapas” literally means “to burn” and indicates the burning of all desires, through discipline and purification. The renunciation of a desire, in any form, is considered tapas.
Svadhyaya (scriptural study): The study of the scriptures, being in the company of spiritual peaple(satsang), repeating mantras for the purpose of liberation and reflecting deeply on the question “Who am I”.
Ishvarapranidhana (Surrender to God): Swami Satchitananda, explains Ishvarapranidhana as the offering of the fruits of our actions to God and humanity,which is considered a manifestation of the Divine.
The word asana, literally means sitting posture and refers to the meditation postures. As the health of the body is important for meditation, the ancient yogis developed many different postures (asanas), to make the body strong and flexible.
Asanas regulate glandular secretions, stimulate the muscles and nerves, massage all internal organs and improve circulation and digestion, gradually promoting the balance of the physical body. They increase stamina, willpower and strengthen immunity. Their regular practice, calms the mind and gradually removes undesireable thoughts.
Above all, the asanas stimulate the subtle body. They purify the energy channels (nadis) and strengthen the five vital energies (pranas). They direct the flow of the prana upwards, helping the awakening of Kundalini, the great reservoir of spiritual energy, located at the base of the spine.
The fourth part of Ashtanga Υoga is pranayama. The word Pranayama is made from the words prana, vital energy-that which makes all life and physical activity possible; and ayama, expansion.
Mental activity is associated with the breath; The more breaths there are, the more thoughts rush into the mind. The practice of pranayama, involves a series of breathing exercises that drastically reduce the number of breaths taken in a given period. By calming the mind, the practitioner prepares for concentration and meditation.
*The text is based on the book Ashtanga Yoga written by Baba Hari Dass